Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire

Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire

Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire

Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire


Macau, New Orleans, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. All of these metropolitan centers were once frontier cities, urban areas irrevocably shaped by cross-cultural borderland beginnings. Spanning a wide range of periods and locations, and including stories of eighteenth-century Detroit, nineteenth-century Seattle, and twentieth-century Los Angeles, Frontier Cities recovers the history of these urban places and shows how, from the start, natives and newcomers alike shared streets, buildings, and interwoven lives. Not only do frontier cities embody the earliest matrix of the American urban experience; they also testify to the intersections of colonial, urban, western, and global history.

The twelve essays in this collection paint compelling portraits of frontier cities and their inhabitants: the French traders who bypassed imperial regulations by throwing casks of brandy over the wall to Indian customers in eighteenth-century Montreal; Isaac Friedlander, San Francisco's "Grain King"; and Adrien de Pauger, who designed the Vieux Carré in New Orleans. Exploring the economic and political networks, imperial ambitions, and personal intimacies of frontier city development, this collection demonstrates that these cities followed no mythic line of settlement, nor did they move lockstep through a certain pace or pattern of evolution. An introduction puts the collection in historical context, and the epilogue ponders the future of frontier cities in the midst of contemporary globalization. With innovative concepts and a rich selection of maps and images, Frontier Cities imparts a crucial untold chapter in the construction of urban history and place.


Jay Gitlin, Barbara Berglund, and Adam Arenson

In 1800, a Kansas chief known as Coeur qui Brule wrote to the lieutenant governor of Spanish Louisiana, expressing his desire to visit St. Louis: “depuis longtemps je désire voir la ville [for a long time I have wanted to see the town].” Understanding that St. Louis was a place of French manners and values that explicitly equated civilization with urbanity, this native leader was eager for a chance to tour and experience the newest French city in North America. Coeur qui Brule recognized the significance of the cities European Americans built on North American frontiers. With his French name and apparent French language skills, Coeur qui Brule also embodied the kind of social and cultural mixing that occurred in frontier cities, at the heart of the imperial encounter. He further remarked that he did not want to visit, like some chiefs, to seek presents. On the contrary, he said, “I have the heart of a Frenchman (j’ai le coeur d’un français).”

Coeur qui Brule, however, would also have been acutely aware that he would always be a visitor in St. Louis: that the city was, from its inception, a French home, not an Indian one. When a group of 150 Missouri Indians arrived in 1764, while Auguste Chouteau and Pierre de Laclède’s workmen were first laying out the town, Laclède hurried back to the site and carefully explained why the Missouri had to leave, disabusing them of their notion to settle in the heart of the new post. Revealingly, before they left, the women and children of the group were engaged to dig a cellar for the company’s main building. Yet despite this exclusionary gesture, St. Louis, like other frontier . . .

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